Papa Jack always considered his first life credential having successfully grown up in the tough part of Chicago, the South Side, or "the jungle." He played college football and nurtured his love of Biology at Carthage College in Illinois, where he double majored in biology and mathematics. He later obtained two masters degrees, one in Marine Biology at UH in 1963 and a second in Botany at the University of Oregon in 1971.
When Papa Jack moved to Oahu in 1959, he met his wife, Violet Shung Yuen Kay, and her three daughters, and they soon became a family. The family welcomed a fourth daughter soon thereafter. The Kay family would become part of the heart of Iolani School when Papa Jack joined the faculty in 1961 and the family moved on campus in 1963.
In the ensuing 52 years, Papa Jack became a living legend at Iolani, where his singular focus was always on the welfare of the students. He was a master teacher, educational innovator, and contributor to AP Biology education, both at the national level and in the day-to-day lives of his adoring students. At Iolani, he taught high school and AP Biology for five decades, including many children of former students. He actively advanced AP Biology teaching by facilitating more than 100 Advanced Placement Biology workshops around the world, grading and writing AP tests for The College Board, and contributing to numerous AP biology textbooks and journals. Accolades and accomplishments were "par for the course" (Papa Jack was an avid golfer); a selected few include being named Hawaii Outstanding Biology and Science Teacher of the Year for multiple years, Presidential Awards for Science and Math teaching from the NSF, and Siemens Award for Advanced Placement. Papa Jack's summers were spent with other important educational pursuits, such as being Academic Dean and Site Director at the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, or organizing a multistate oceanography cruise on Lanai for AP Biology students. He was also a bowling coach, class advisor, and mentor.
Papa Jack was a long standing and proud member of the East Manoa Lions Club and served his community in this capacity as well, and was honored with various state and national Lions awards. President Ronald Reagan appointed Papa Jack to the Selective Service Board of Hawaii in 1982. The mayor of Honolulu even proclaimed December 31, 1980 as "John C. Kay Day".
Papa Jack's giant presence will always be felt at Iolani. In 1989, the teachers and students built a new greenhouse dedicated as a living memorial to Papa Jack and Violet Kay, who died of cancer in July 1987. A state-of-the-art biology facility (with his office over the football field's 50 yard line) was built in his honor. The Kay Summer Research Fellowship, endowed by him and his former students, allows talented students to explore advanced scientific interests outside of school. Certainly most of all, Papa Jack's legacy lives on in the thousands of students in whom he kindled the love of learning and curiosity; respect and stewardship of people, nature, and community; and the responsibility to pass these ideals on to our fellow human beings.
Papa Jack was pre-deceased by his wife, Violet, and is survived by daughters Connie (Whitney) Joseph, Marlene Cherchar, Sue (Reid) Elam and Ke Lin (Kevin) Merit; along with grandchildren, and great grandchildren; sisters Alice Kay (Mel) and Judy Aiello along with thousands of former students and faculty of Iolani, and the many friends in his extended AP family.
A Celebration of Life will be held in May of 2022 on the Iolani Campus. The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, those wishing to keep Papa Jack's legacy alive may contribute to the John and Violet Kay Summer Research Fellowship. Donations may be sent to Iolani School, Advancement Office, 563 Kamoku Street, Honolulu, HI 96816.
Our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the deceased